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Behind the Numbers
Posted at 12:53 PM ET, 01/05/2011

Americans split on how to interpret Constitution

There is a set text to the U.S. Constitution, but the public splits about evenly on whether the country's courts should stick narrowly to its original meaning when deciding law.

Exactly half of Americans say the Supreme Court should base its rulings on the framers' original intent, but nearly as many -- 46 percent -- say the justices should instead rule on what the Constitution "means in current times."

The data, from an October Washington Post-Kaiser-Harvard poll, also show a sharp partisan gap on the question: nearly three-quarters of Republicans said original intent should prevail, while Democrats took the modern times side by nearly 2 to 1. Among independents, 53 percent said the court should narrowly interpret the Constitution; 43 percent said it should use an updated understanding of the document.

Nearly six in 10 of those age 18 to 29 said the Court should seek a modern understanding of the Constitution, with those 65 and older as apt to side with a stricter reading.

Q: Do you think the U.S. Supreme Court should base its rulings on its understanding of what the U.S. Constitution meant as it was originally written, or should the court base its rulings on its understanding of what the U.S. Constitution means in current times?

                  As originally   What it means
                     written      current times
All adults             50             46

Democrats             34               62
Republicans          72               26
Independents        53               43

Age 18-29             39               58     
Age 30-49             48               49
Age 50-64             54               42
Age 65+                63               29

By  |  12:53 PM ET, 01/05/2011

Categories:  Post Polls | Tags:  Boehner, Polls, Supreme Court

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